Meet The PE Class Of 2018: Ariel McNichol, Founder and CEO SmartSpark, Inc.
The 2018 PE Intensive, taking place April 13 & 14, brings together the the top 200 female founders from the PE Venture Competition for hands-on workshops and mentorship in New York City. Among the 200 are 10 finalists who have been given the additional opportunity to participate in the pitch competition on Saturday, April 14 for a chance to receive a $10,000 grant and a spot in a five-week accelerator program hosted at Rent the Runway’s headquarters.
In the week leading up to #PEIntensive18, we’re featuring the 10 pre-selected finalists (two additional wildcard companies to be chosen during the Intensive will also present at the live pitch competition) and introducing them and their companies to our PE Community. Visit our 2018 PE Intensive website to meet the entire #PEClassOf2018, join our mailing list for Intensive updates, and follow Intensive highlights and behind-the-scenes with hashtag #PEIntensive18.
Ariel McNichol is the Founder and CEO of SmartSpark, Inc., an AI-driven personalized video platform that keeps patients motivated to stay on their road to recovery by combining behavioral science, entertainment and social video. Before SmartSpark, Ariel was a hands-on Creative Director and UI/UX specialist creating innovative, award-winning experiences for companies like Apple, Lucas Arts, Disney, Scientific Learning and The Annenberg Institute. We spoke to Ariel about what motivated her to start SmartSpark, the difficulties she’s faced while fundraising, and what she’s most looking forward to at #PEIntensive18.
What inspired you to start your business?
Even though I had every app and tracker and had studied a lot of behavioral psychology, I was struggling to lose weight and exercise—meanwhile, loved ones who struggled with chronic diseases [still] weren’t making healthy choices, no matter how horrible the consequences. As a veteran software entrepreneur who’s made loved experiences for companies like Apple and Disney, I knew the power of great design and stories, so I became determined to create an experience that people would want to see on their phones as much as social media, but that would inspire them in the moments they needed help most.
After building dozens of prototypes (and making everyone I knew use them), I created a working model! Multiple doctor friends said they wanted it for their patients, and healthcare providers have widened budgets for patient engagement services, and so the business of SmartSpark Inc. was born.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Sexism and ageism. I used to avoid telling people the outrageous sexist, anti-working mother, ageist (I’m only in my mid-40s) absurdities I’ve been told, but recent momentum empowers me to say it like it is. I [tell them] mothers are prone to be superior CEOs, and age makes founders more efficient, dependable and statistically safer bets. In spite of that, it’s [still difficult] to raise funding.
What’s been the greatest reward?
People telling me that SmartSpark helps them not just in the moment, but also in reframing their feelings about their health. Their gratefulness has given me more joy and satisfaction, and more ambition to scale this business than I can describe. Also, when doctors, nurses and counselors say that what we’re doing is brilliant and has real potential to be a total game changer for outpatient services, it feels incredible. I carry these statements with me in my head to help keep me focused when a 28-year-old VC mansplains healthcare market risk to us during a rejection.
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
Ensuring patients’ health outcomes—and not misaligned billing incentives—are what dictate care is a key innovation. Behavior outside of clinic time is when the outcomes are written, and we’re helping people determine how they want to write their unique outcome stories. SmartSpark is designed to produce engagement at scale, for multiple population types.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
Remembering the purpose of the company and visualizing how we will grow to help millions of people live happier, healthier lives motivates me. Research shows when someone feels connected to their sense of purpose and/or goals, they have more willpower and energy. We’ve designed this into SmartSpark: our video nudges use visual priming to help quickly trigger a person’s unique sense of purpose because we know that if they feel their why, they have more willpower to make healthier choices.
What about #PEIntensive18 are you looking forward to most?
Meeting innovative, thought-provoking women; learning and bettering SmartSpark; and helping other female founders.